The Open Thread that wasn’t

So we can sell wine now? All RIGHTY then...

So we can sell wine now? All RIGHTY then…

I started putting this Open Thread together on Saturday at a Barnes & Noble in Memphis where I had gone to do some work while my wife was otherwise engaged. (Actually, she was at a soup kitchen downtown where her brother and sister-in-law volunteer, helping them out. I felt bad about not being with them, but I did get some work done.)

Anyway, when I realized they were back at the house, I dropped the blog post (I had only started it because I’d run out of work things I could do without reaching clients on the phone) and went and joined them.

It was an eclectic Thread I had in mind, just based on stuff I’d found interesting in that day’s Washington Post. Here you go:

  1. We need a major redesign of life — This is a provocative piece about how our expectations of life are built around the assumption that people wouldn’t live much past 65, if that. “Long lives are not the problem. The problem is living in cultures designed for lives half as long as the ones we have.” What sense does it make, for instance, for people to retire in their 60s or even 50s if they’re going to live to 100? It’s interesting even though I look askance at some of the findings such as: “To thrive in an age of rapid knowledge transfer, children not only need reading, math and computer literacy, but they also need to learn to think creatively and not hold on to ‘facts’ too tightly.” Really? I think one of the problems we have today is that too many have abandoned belief in facts altogether. But maybe that was just awkwardly worded. Of course, if you mean people need to be flexible and learn new facts as they arise, I’m with you…
  2. Whaddya mean, I’m funny? — This was a nice little profile on Joe Pesci, whom I’ve enjoyed in so many movies in the past. Remember John Travolta’s line in “Get Shorty” about wanting to get into movies, and someone says, but you’re a loan shark, and he replies that “I was never that into it…”? Well, it turns out Joe Pesci was never that into acting — which is why Martin Scorsese had such a hard time talking him into coming out of retirement. Ironic, given how good at it he is. Anyway, I haven’t had the time to watch “The Irishman” yet, but this further whetted my appetite.
  3. Ice preserved a tiny puppy in near-perfect condition for 18,000 years. Scientists are fascinated. So am I. Even if you don’t read the piece, you have to look at the pictures. It’s from the time when domesticated dogs were starting to evolve from their wolf ancestors. And this puppy looks like its alive, and only sleeping…
  4. Facing impeachment, the president strives to look hard at work — This was mildly interesting, although not as much so as the other pieces. Basically, it answers the question (which frankly had not occurred to me), Why is this man popping up in Afghanistan and going to see the Queen? Basically, it says Trump is taking a page from Bill Clinton’s playbook: “Then-President Bill Clinton survived his 1998 impeachment in part because the economy was roaring and because he appeared to many voters to be relentlessly focused on doing the business of the American people.”
  5. So which is it, Charlie or Charley? — This rather stupid topic does not come from The Washington Post, so don’t blame them. Being a lifelong editor, things like this really bother me, whereas probably no one else cares. While I was at that Barnes & Noble, I was listening to some Spotify to drown out the noises of the cafe. And I happened to look at that screen as this number came on (see picture below), and I immediately wondered, “So which is it? Charley Musselwhite or Charlie Musselwhite?” I decided the album cover, which says “Charley,” was more likely to be right than the Spotify text — but then, Wikipedia has “Charlie!” Does Musselwhite himself even care? Probably less than I do. I need to relax; after all, it’s not his official given name, right? It’s not like they spelled his surname “Musclewhite” or something. Oh, and don’t even get me started on “Charly,” which should have been called “Flowers for Algernon,” which by the way was an awesome book.

As a postscript… I went looking for a photo for this post among what I shot in Memphis over the last few days, and settled on the above shot of an aisle in a Kroger. All the years I lived in Tennessee, it was illegal to sell wine in grocery stores. Since that changed (and this is the first time I’ve been back since that happened), the grocers have been making up for lost time. The picture doesn’t even show the whole aisle. There’s about six feet more of wine shelves behind me…


64 thoughts on “The Open Thread that wasn’t

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    To digress…

    My last post was about valuing teachers. Above, I mentioned Flowers for Algernon, which reminds me of an impressive thing a teacher did when I was a kid.

    This was my English teacher in the 7th grade, Mr. Kramberg. He probably would have made an impression on me anyway, since he was the first male teacher I ever had. But he went beyond that. One day, I suppose in an effort to try to inspire a love of reading, he started reading a short story aloud to us. It was “Flowers for Algernon.”

    You may or may not know that Daniel Keyes first wrote it as a short story, which was published in a science fiction magazine, before later turning into the novel.

    Anyway, I don’t recall whether Mr. Kramberg read the story all at once in one period or in installments over several days. I do remember that he never had my full attention as completely, before or since, as when he chucked aside the official lesson plans to read that story aloud.

    I was riveted. As Huck Finn said about “Moses and the Bulrushers,” I was all in a sweat to find out what happened next. And of course inspired later to get my hands on a copy of the full novel and read THAT.

    Of course, I’d been an obsessive reader before this. From the time I was small, I was always reading something, from cereal boxes at the breakfast table to encyclopedias. I’d been an enthusiastic member of the Weekly Reader book club, devouring the monthly offerings, since the 3rd grade.

    But I’d never read anything like the story of Charlie Gordon, a mentally retarded man who undergoes surgery to increase his intelligence. (Algernon was a mouse who had the surgery before Charlie.) It was a story for adults — the novel version would have a lot about Charlie’s rapid sexual maturation after his surgery — and maybe that was part of it: maybe it was one of the first things I encountered that didn’t address me as a child. But really, I think it was the plot, and the unique way it unfolded, that grabbed me. The whole thing was written as a series of progress reports Charlie himself wrote before and after his surgery, as a way for the doctors to mark his progress. It started out with badly spelled entries (Mr. Kramberg showed them to us, and/or spelled them aloud to give the flavor) from the perspective of a childlike man, and changed dramatically from there. I thought that was a very cool idea, well executed…

    I don’t know what prompted him to do it, but I’ll always be grateful to Mr. Kramberg for letting me know about it.

    I don’t know whatever happened to Mr. Kramberg, and I’ve always worried about it a little. At the end of the year, he told us he was going into the Army, and we expected him to go to Vietnam. This was the 1965-66 school year.

    I hope he got back safely. And I hope that after that, he went back into teaching…

  2. David T

    4. You know Trump can’t catch a break with certain people. He went to Afghanistan to serve meals to the troops. He’s catching hell by the left wing crowd for “acting busy”, had he stayed at home he’d be catching hell for not supporting the troops.

    This crap is getting so old it’s not even newsworthy anymore. People in general are tired of the whole impeachment ordeal and all but the diehard Democrats really don’t care at this point. The House Democrats have two choices, “$#!+ or get off the pot”.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      What “crap?” I don’t see any crap. It simply points out that Trump is doing what Clinton was doing — something that, by the way, worked for Clinton.

      How does that constitute giving him “crap?” How is noting the fact that he’s doing something different from what he usually does, and that we’ve seen this before, “catching hell?”

      This is one of the mysteries of my life, which I have experienced thousands of times as a journalist — people construing something that is perfectly neutral as negative, or in this case, as “crap”…

      1. David T

        So you complaining or supporting a story about Trump going to Afghanistan is a neutral statement? How about how journalists love to report the same story over and over without adding any information and just repeating what they said an hour, a day, a week, or a month ago. Take for example the impeachment fiasco in the House, what do we know today that we didn’t know two months ago? Yet it’s headline material for the media. It’s worse for television news reporting, let’s watch WIS’s 24 hour coverage of the 100 year flood. After the first 30 minutes, we had everyting we needed to know, yet 6-8 hours later they’re still out there reporting the exact same story but getting a personal sob story from yet another person who wants to be interviewed on camera. Crap, it doesn’t need an explanation or a definition… you know it when you see it.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          “complaining or supporting…?”

          I wasn’t doing either. I was taking note of it. I thought it was, as I clearly said, “mildly interesting” that Trump was following the Clinton playbook, after meeting with Clinton strategist Mark Penn…

          I didn’t think I needed to, but perhaps I should post something on my blog like what I have on my Twitter feed: “Retweets ≠ endorsement.”…

  3. Doug Ross

    I found The Irishman to be very disappointing. Long, way too long, not much action… a lot of “dese” and “dose” dialogue that went on and on. Al Pacino was his typical ranting, yelling self. The CGI used to age and de-age Pesci, Pacino, and DeNiro was fine but seemed overused. The storyline with DeNiro’s character’s daughter was weird — Natalie Portman I think had one or two lines only and otherwise just hung around on the periphery.

    I’ve seen some suggestions to watch it as a 4 part mini-series with specific breaks. Not sure that would have helped.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’m a little worried about it, because of the CGI. Doesn’t sound like Scorcese. I suspect that if I don’t like it, that will be the reason.

      I never know with Scorcese. I love his movies, or they leave me flat.

      I loved “Mean Streets.”

      I didn’t like “Raging Bull” much.

      I loved “Goodfellas.”

      “Casino” left me cold.

      I LOVED “The Departed.”

      I found “Gangs of New York” quite interesting, but I can’t say I like it…

      I’m still hoping “The Irishman” is great.

      Maybe I should do as you suggest and watch it in installments. The reason I haven’t watched it yet is because I haven’t had 3 and a half hours to devote to it in one chunk. For instance, I had thought about starting it on the flight back from Memphis, but it was only an hour flight…

    2. David T

      I watched it, but I watched it in two sittings. As someone who absolutely hates CGI, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. Not to give away any spoilers but there are things they couldn’t do, the face was altered to show a 30 year old man, but the 30 year old man walked and had the movements of a 70 year old man. The worst acting part of the movie was DeNiro and the grocery shop owner, I’ve seen better acting watching professional wrestling. And at times I saw scenes where any non senile director would have had them reshoot the scene, but in this movie Scorsese decided it was good enough and moved onto the next scene.

      I’d suggest people watch it, but if you wanted a similar story with better acting, just rewatch Goodfellas.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        “the 30 year old man walked and had the movements of a 70 year old man”

        Was that Pacino? I heard that Scorcese had trouble with that with him. Apparently he had to keep doing another take, reminding the 79-year-old to try to move like a younger man.

        Maybe at some point he just gave up.

        Or maybe he fell victim to a thing I’ve encountered many times as an editor: You’re dealing with a piece of copy that is SO bad that after you work on it a while, you see vast improvement — but then someone reads it behind you and says, “Wow, this is awful!” Because they don’t see how much better it is than it was. (This happened a good bit with guest op-eds.)

        So maybe Pacino got way better, and Scorcese was pleased with the improvement — but it still was far from adequate.

        It’s a problem with getting so deep into a thing that you can’t see it with fresh eyes…

        By the way, I didn’t have time, again, last night to attempt “The Irishman.” So we started watching “The Lost City of Z,” not realizing it was 2 hours and 21 minutes, and SEEMS much longer. We quit trying with about an hour left to go…

        Here’s the thing about a movie like that: In the first minutes of his first trip to the Amazon, I’m like, “See, this is why I would never, ever want to go to the Amazon.” And after awhile, I don’t want to watch someone who doesn’t get it, and keeps going BACK to the Amazon…

        1. Doug Ross

          If you want something that is easily view-able in short duration, I highly recommend Modern Love on Amazon Prime. 8 episodes, all under 30 minutes… all really well done, all distinctly different. You can probably watch them in any order except for #8 which ties them all together. Lots of well known actors/actresses… great writing, direction.

        2. David T

          Actually I noticed it with all three characters. DeNiro mostly.

          There is a scene with a grocery shop owner that was pathetic… it won’t give away anything, but DeNiro looked like he was trying to show a guy laying on the ground how to kick start a Harley.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            I’ve got a suggestion for the future, Marty: When you want someone to play a 30-year-old, get a 30-year-old…

            Speaking of gimmicks, I’m eager to see “1917.” It’s a war picture shot all in one take (or at least edited so it looks like all one take). I’ve heard it’s really good…

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  You know, I was kind of disappointed by “Boogie Nights.” I’d always heard it was really good, and I felt let down when I finally watched it when it came on Amazon (or was it Netflix?).

                  But on your recommendation, I might go watch the opening next time I find it streaming.

                  I don’t remember it…

  4. Doug Ross

    Kamala Harris has dropped out of the running. She crashed and burned — and you can point to the takedown by Tulsi Gabbard in the debates that started the slide.

    Tulsi won’t win but she’s acquitted herself very well in my view. Will end up outlasting Castor, Booker, Harris, Beto, and others.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Actually, this piece in the NYT over the weekend may have done it: “How Kamala Harris’s Campaign Unraveled.” I didn’t read the whole piece, but I saw references to it that saw it as pretty devastating…

      When you start out with such high expectations, and then the NYT writes your campaign’s obit, it’s about time to throw in the towel…

      1. David T

        You would think with Kamala’s reputation that she could find a way to bring in a billionaire to back her.

  5. Mab

    We are now the Indians — the Targeted for Extinction.

    Casinos taking up entire city blocks, no separation between the holy and the profane (no blue laws to designate a Sabbath, any day’s Sabbath), wine isles in the grocery store overtaking the staples’ space, ever-increasing alcohol content of IPA beers at every Get-N-Go-now on every corner of the map, (saw this happen with liquor stores in Louisiana), TOO MUCH TIME ON OUR HANDS, what could go wrong…

  6. Doug Ross

    Washington Post reveals documents showed the policy, strategy, and tactics regarding our military in Afghanistan have been a total SNAFU…

    “In stark language, the documents reveal that people who were directly involved in the war could not shake their doubts about the strategy and mission, even as three U.S. presidents told the American people it was necessary to keep fighting.”

    We need to follow the lead of Tulsi Gabbard and get our troops out of harms way in places we have no business being and no understanding of how to approach them. We can’t fix Afghanistan or Iraq. And our “fixes” typically make situations worse. But keep voting for people like Trump and Biden if you want endless wars.

  7. Doug Ross

    All the Trump haters must be on vacation today. Haven’t heard any peeps out of them regarding the Inspector General’s testimony today about the very questionable behavior of the FBI and the actions related to the “Steele Dossier”. Lindsey told McCain to give it to the FBI — and now today Lindsey is leading the charge to discredit it and the way it was used to push through a biased FISA warrant request.

    Everyone who thinks Trump is headed for impeachment may want to take a sedative tonight. He’s not going anywhere until at least January 2021. I hope he loses to anyone but Biden or Warren… but til then, how about we have a Congress that gets to work?

  8. Doug Ross

    From The State on an audit of the Penny Tax project:

    “Some of the sales tax money raised to improve Richland County roads were instead spent on everything from coffee and computers to cars and public relations services, according to a preliminary audit by the state Department of Revenue. The DOR’s report also said taxpayers on some occasions paid for the same services more than once, including up to three times in some cases. The duplicate payments improperly cost taxpayers nearly $20 million, the report said. The report, completed in October, found a total of $41.4 million had been misspent between 2013 and 2018. Under a state Supreme Court ruling last year, Richland County taxpayers could be responsible for repaying that money to the roads program.”

    That money was wasted and the program has already gone over budget by millions and has under delivered in delivering on the false promises used to sell this sham isn’t surprising. Politicians sell pipe dreams and never worry about accountability. Who cares? It’s only millions of dollars of other people’s money that could have been spent more wisely.

    What I particularly found amusing in the article was this quote from Todd Rutherford which encapsulates the attitude of government workers and politicians:

    “But Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, said he hasn’t seen any indication of misappropriation. He said a comparison to other areas with similar programs would show whether the spending in dispute was standard for a program of this size. He’s also unsure who should ultimately be responsible for paying the money back, and to whom. ”Just tell them don’t do it again and keep moving,” he said. “That’s how government usually works.””

    That is ABSOLUTELY how government usually works.

      1. Doug Ross

        Rutherford believes it too, apparently. But he’s figured out how to use that system to his benefit. Me, I just pay for it.

      2. Doug Ross

        But doesn’t it give you even a moment’s pause to consider how much money was wasted and that you pushed hard for the tax? Does the outcome matter? Would it make you hesitant to support a similar tax in the future knowing what you know now about the implementation?

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I don’t know about “gives me pause.” Depends on how you mean that.

          If you mean, do I wish they’d done a better job with it, of course! I want every penny spent efficiently.

          If you mean, do I wish we had just ignored our infrastructure needs and not passed the tax, of course not.

          We need adequate taxes for services and infrastructure, and we need to spend them properly.

          When some of the money isn’t spent properly, raise hell. But don’t expect me to agree with the leap to, “We shouldn’t have raised the money to begin with.” That doesn’t make sense.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            And remember — it’s because this is GOVERNMENT and not the private sector that you have a revenue department report to raise hell about.

            It’s weird how it works. We have oversight and accountability in government, and as a result libertarians conclude that only the public sector wastes money.

            I look at a report like this, and I see the system working… and the next logical step is to demand accountability of your Richland County representatives, or replace them…

            1. Doug Ross

              We have audits in the private sector as well. The difference is that if there were 20 million dollars of waste in the private sector, someone (many people) would lose their jobs.

              But in the public sector, it’s a tap on the wrist with the admonition to “don’t do that again or else we will tap you on the wrist again and tell you not to do it again”.

              That’s the difference that drives me crazy. Accountability is non-existent. And that’s because they aren’t spending their own money or worried about even TRYING to be efficient.

              And, yes, we should raise money to pay for things the government should do like roads, schools, etc. But in this case, the justification was built on lies, hyperbole, and poor planning. The tax should have been set up to expire every five years so we could assess whether it was working or not. Once in place, taxes don’t go away.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                I think this one goes away at some point, just not as soon as you’d like — doesn’t it?

                I seem to remember something like that…

                Accountability is NOT nonexistent in the public sector. Far from it. For starters, having it appear in the paper, so that you and everybody else gets ticked off at the officials and can vote against them in the next election, is the accountability.

                And if someone was converting it to his own use and THAT was proved, you’d have people going to jail. Even in cases where I don’t expect it. Like with the former solicitor. I had thought the law gave him enough leeway (because of his discretion over his budget as an independently elected official) that he could get away legally with his outrageous excesses, and the only way to stop him was the ballot box.

                But prosecutors found ways to charge him, and he not only got voted out, but he got prison.

                And accountability is not nonexistent in the private sector, either. But there’s not as MUCH scrutiny of what you do as there is in the public.

                1. Doug Ross

                  Who misspent the $20 million? Who made the errors in forecasting the costs of projects that were off by 50% or more? Not the politicians you claim are accountable. They are government workers. They are all likely still working on their jobs, waiting for the next chance to screw up, while they pass the time until they collect a state pension.

                  Accountability at the ballot box would require voters paying attention and having actual contested elections.

                2. Bob Amundson

                  The County’s Program Development Team (PDT) was made up of three companies: M.B. Kahn Construction, HDR-ICA, and Brownstone. The three companies in turn managed about 13 smaller firms that help fulfill the contract duties.

                  There is an accountability problem; outsourcing government to private firms (the PDT) clearly is not a panacea. Writing contracts that allow effective monitoring is a skill that government is not very good at. Developing and monitoring contracts instead of direct service delivery demands different skill sets.

                  Privatization of government services can be a good thing, but the Penny Tax fiasco proves outsourcing can be just as messed up as direct service delivery. Yes, people need to be held accountable, both politicians and administrators. But people that think government is always done better through privatization are part of the problem.

                3. Doug Ross

                  As for the solicitor, you make it sound like it is an effective process when a guy who has been embezzling money in broad daylight with no oversight is finally brought to justice after a couple years. That’s not how it works in the private sector since there are more people paying attention to the money coming in and going out — unless it is some Mom & Pop operation.

                  [tangent] How about this in terms of accountability? Would you say the rate of unethical / illegal behavior for the Sheriffs in SC counties is lower, the same, or higher than that of any other profession? Based on events of the past year, I’d say they fall somewhere between carnival game operators and used car salesmen.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    The problem you’re pointing to is the very reason I was concerned there would be no way to stop Johnson.

                    Sheriffs are elected separately from everyone else, just as solicitors are. They answer to no one but the voters. No one can tell them what to do or what not to do…

                    As you know, I’m long been an opponent of the Long Ballot, although I usually worry about it more on the state level rather than local…

                4. Doug Ross

                  I never suggested privatization of roads. That IS one of the core functions government should provide. The problem is they don’t do it well but keep getting funding to do a poor job. I want to see people OWN the implementation of road repairs and put their jobs on the line to do it.

  9. Bill

    What’s so wrong about building your own roads/trails and/or ignoring them rather than pay an extra penny,cheap,lazy bastard?

      1. Bill

        “I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I
        can picture us attacking that world, because they’d never expect it.”

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          In a way, you just described what happened to the Inca when Pizarro and his Spaniards got there.

          Not that the Incas were strangers to war. They just knew nothing about the Spaniards, and not having writing didn’t know what Cortes had recently done to Montezuma. They never dreamed that Pizarro would take the Inca prisoner, hold him for ransom, and then when the ransom was paid, go ahead and kill him anyway…

          Yeah, I’m still reading “Guns, Germs and Steel”…

  10. Doug Ross

    Is Boris Johnson’s apparent blowout win a precursor to Trump in 2020? I don’t think anyone predicted a landslide. I dread a Biden – Trump matchup because Trump might win by an even larger margin than he did over Hillary (electorally, for all you who think popular vote matters)

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      No, it’s not.

      I would have voted Tory in this election, even though I’m against Brexit and see Boris as a doofus.

      Why? Look no further than Jeremy Corbyn. It’s unthinkable to have him as PM…

      1. Mr. Smith

        It’s a parliamentary democracy. There are other alternatives — like the LibDems — that wouldn’t have meant simply throwing your vote away.

        No need to approach in a binary American way, as if you had no choice. Because that’s poppycock (a.k.a. malarkey).

  11. Doug Ross

    The new mayor of Irmo apparently never learned about plagiarism in school.

    His excuses for taking large sections of his speech from other speeches is more embarrassing. This would be a huge red flag normally but it appears a lot of people want to ignore it.

        1. Doug Ross

          Just a general comment on the open thread. Just noting how the anti Trump folks have been very silent since the IGs report showed the Steele dossier was a farce and the FBI was pushing a narrative via the complicit media. I always am interested in what people DON’T talk about especially when it conflicts with their biased views.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author


            You mean that report that said “You know all that BS from Trump about how the opening of an investigation of him was motivated by partisanship? Well, that’s what it was, BS.”

            That report?

            And no one, but NO ONE, has reported on it without mentioning the FBI’s “failures” in conducting it.

            I haven’t found that interesting enough to talk about, mainly because it’s not relevant to what is on our plate now. (Also, if my memory serves, I wasn’t all that interested when that stuff WAS on the front burner.) And I definitely don’t find NOT talking about it interesting, at all.

            Felt like a postscript to me. Kind of like that recent report about Hillary’s emails. That seemed pretty off-topic, too…

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            Doug, you should enjoy Ross Douthat’s latest column. He makes a lot of points that you do. He’s wrong, but you should enjoy it.

            Surprised me a bit, because I’ve never thought of him as a libertarian. I think of him as the culturally conservative Catholic.

            He’s also one of the people I particularly enjoy reading these days, ever since Trump came along.

            With the exception of maybe Joe Biden, Democrats and liberals seldom express what I think about Trump. The never-Trump conservatives — Douthat, Stephens, Brooks (if you want to call him a conservative), Rubin, David Frum, Bill Kristol and George Will generally come closer to my point of view…

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